When she was a college student 36 years ago, Lori G. Bremner was diagnosed with acute myelogenous leukemia, she said Thursday during a White House press call about the individual insurance market before passage of the Affordable Care Act.
“After nearly five years of aggressive chemotherapy, immunotherapy, bone marrow harvests and more, my cancer has never returned, but since then I have waged a battle — a three-decade struggle to get quality, affordable coverage,” said Bremner,” a volunteer board member with the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, the group’s advocacy arm. “I was denied coverage outright more times than I can count and I was quoted sky high prices for flimsy plans numerous times. Discussions with insurers effectively ended as soon as I disclosed my long ago cancer diagnosis.”
But the 2010 Affordable Care Act has made quality health insurance available to millions of people with cancer and other life threatening diseases, she said. Each plan must cover essential health benefits needed to prevent and treat cancer and other serious diseases. No plan can turn down people with pre-existing conditions or charge them more than someone who has never been sick, she said.
“I am so happy to say that I am now enrolled in a plan on California’s marketplace, Coveragecalifornia.com,” she said. “I’m paying $628 less per month for better coverage than I had before and I get to keep all my same doctors. During the enrollment process, no asked if I ever had cancer.”
Besides marketplaces–also known as exchanges–the Affordable Care Act seeks to provide coverage to uninsured Americans by expanding Medicaid and changing insurance laws so that insurers cannot refuse coverage when it becomes too expensive.
The White House offered up Bremner’s story Thursday, along with those of members of the American Diabetes Association and the American Heart Association, to help showcase the Affordable Care Act in an effort to brush back mounting criticism of the law since the flawed rollout of healthcare.gov. Technical problems have dogged the enrollment site since its Oct. 1 launch, but most of the problems have been repaired and an estimated 2 million people have signed up for private insurance. The White House hopes to have an estimated 7 million people enrolled by March 31, the deadline for coverage under the law.
“Before the Affordable Care Act, health insurance did not provide a peace of mind,” David Simas, White House Deputy Senior Advisor, said during Thursday’s call. “In fact, the model for insurance before the Affordable Care Act was not to bring in as many people as possible. It was to bring in as many healthy people as possible and to put in barriers to either price out or to completely deny coverage for individuals who had pre-existing conditions.”
Before the Affordable Care Act was passed, Simas said, up to 129 million Americans, or nearly 1 in 2 adults, could be discriminated against because of pre-existing conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, cancer, pregnancy and even acne.
“This was the insurance market before the Affordable Care Act,” he said. “The insecurity that it brought people was a profound hindrance to the quintessential American ideal that if you work hard you could get ahead. For too many people, the insecurity and lack of peace of mind that came from knowing that you had a pre-existing condition and not wanting to expose yourself to the market was debilitating and kept people back.”
Simas and Bremner stressed that America cannot returned to the flawed health care system of the past.
“One thing is for certain, people like me cannot go back to the flawed health care system that made this reform necessary,” Bremner said “Our lives depend on it.”